A chocolate museum? I should coco!

– by Zhang Jiayun –
In 2012, the ‘Chocolate Republic’ was completed in Taiwan, the first chocolate museum in Asia. To transform the chocolate brand image and “inspire innovations”, Hunya Company, a well-renowned food brand in Taiwan, delegated J J Pan & Partners to design a chocolate world. The building has recently won the Taiwan Real Estate Excellence Award.

Located in Taoyuan County, the site is surrounded by extensive agricultural land and commands an open view with local residences encircling the site at the periphery. Typically, in this district, the scenery would be that of factories adjacent to farmland. In order to keep a sense of coherence between the industrial, countryside and this new building, designers have balanced the volumes and heights of both buildings, allowing for an obvious contrast in between.

5The main building sits at the north-eastern corner of the site and provides a large outdoor ‘ entertaining space’ on the south-western side. At first glance, the organic shape of the choco museum attracts most tourists’ attention and gives a strong feeling of its theme. Through several major (intentional) cracks in the building, a totally distinct, flowing inner space is seen: just like a piece of broken chocolate bar with a hard outer surfaces and a soft centre.

The building adopts the form of a solid volume cut in different angles with the chocolate-colored exterior conveying the imagery of chocolate. It could be seen as simply a crass literal interpretation of the brief (and many people think that it is) but it is actually not meant to be that serious… partly because it is not meant to appeal predominantly to adult sensibilities. Indeed, not only does the exhibition inside provide interest, but the building in toto is an enjoyment for younger visitors.

3When walking into the museum, the interior is quite chocolaty. The colours, the surface textures and even the furniture or decorations are easily recognizable as the representation of various aspects of chocolate. A two-storey greenhouse for cacao makes good use of the bright atrium and enriches the space inside. Unlike the image of Willy Wonka’s factory, this is not as dreamlike as one might expect, and instead shows up many well developed qualities of Modernism.

According to an interview with Taiwan media, the architect has explained that the original design arises out of numerous creative brainstorming meetings. They considered different aspects of chocolate, such as shape, process, event, texture, taste, emotion, history and cultural background. Later on, ideas were categorized by eight models and the architects finally picked up the elements that best described the conceptualization: regular block/irregular form; solid crust/liquid fillings; smooth/blend; bright/dull; single/diverse.

surfaces In this way, the idea of ‘contrasts’ plays a central role in the development of the building. For instance, the geometric contrast between overall and partial, the contrast between solid crust and transparent fissures, the contrasting colours between the exterior and the interior, etc. Even the two opposing pieces of ‘chocolate’ outer shell are not the same. Solid and punched aluminum plates are used on different sides. Hence, at night, light will be visually extruded from one side and be in confrontation with the darker chocolate surface. Meanwhile, the contrast between concrete structure of the solid, and the steel structure that supports the perforated surfaces shows the conflict of heavy and light, static and dynamic.

1-coverThough there are many chocolate museums and chocolate republics around world, such as the one in Jeju in South Korea (which is more like a castle in fairy tale… and second only in size to Cologne’s Schokoladenmuseum), Chocolate Republic is still the Top visitor attraction for me to visit. It provides a visual metaphor for the pleasures of chocolate as well as successfully interpreting the essence and characteristics of chocolate itself.

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Team:
Architects: J. J. Pan & Partners
Location: Taoyuan, Taiwan
Project Year: 2012